Fireworks can turn a family celebration into a tragedy

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National non-profit group urges Americans to celebrate Fourth of July safely by not using fireworks

CHICAGO—Every year, many Americans celebrate Independence Day with food, get-togethers and sometimes, fireworks. But no matter what kind of fireworks are used, they are extremely dangerous. Firecrackers can explode prematurely, and rockets can take unexpected flight paths. And, according to the U.S. Eye Injury Registry, bystanders are more often injured by fireworks than operators themselves. No one knows that better than the Shannon family.

When Michael Shannon was just 3 years old, he attended a family reunion with his parents. During the festivities, someone lit a legal, aerial firework device, which accidentally tipped over and fired straight at Michael, who was standing with his father more than 40 feet away. Before father or son could react, the missile struck Michael in the head, causing an open skull fracture and a severe burn to his brain. The damage was not only excruciatingly painful, but also caused him to lose his sight.

Michael’s family brought him to the emergency room immediately, but unfortunately, Michael died the following day. Now, Michael’s father, Jack, has become a steadfast supporter of consumer fireworks bans, and he hopes to educate the public about how dangerous they can be.

“My son not only lost his sight, he lost his life to fireworks,” said Mr. Shannon. “For Michael’s sake, and the sake of others, my family is speaking out about the dangers of fireworks, hoping that the public and our policy-makers will take action and stop the unnecessary suffering caused by these dangerous devices.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 6,500 people were treated in emergency rooms across the country because of accidents caused by fireworks during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to the latest data from 2005. There were 10,800 firework-related injuries for the entire year, an increase of 1,400 injuries from 2004.

Sadly, like Michael, many of those injured were children. In fact, 45 percent of all fireworks injuries are to those aged 15 and younger. Most injuries are to the hands and fingers, but 1,600 were eye injuries, including contusions and lacerations, debris in the eye and burns. Some eye injuries result in permanent vision loss.

“There are no such things as ‘safe fireworks.’ Even sparklers can burn up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Daniel D. Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America. “Adults who played with fireworks as kids without incident can’t guarantee that their children won’t be injured.”

In 2005, there were 500 children younger than 5 who were hurt by sparklers. In fact, sparklers accounted for half of all fireworks injuries to children in that age group.

Prevent Blindness America, the nation’s oldest eye health and safety organization, urges everyone to leave fireworks to the professionals this year. Many communities offer spectacular displays to the public, free of charge. However, there have been injuries to the public reported at these events as well. Be aware that all fireworks, whether handled by consumers or professionals, can be dangerous.

Prevent Blindness America has these tips to help prevent fireworks-related injuries:

Do not purchase, use or store fireworks of any type.

Be aware that even sparklers are dangerous and cause one-half of fireworks injuries in children 5 and younger.

Protect yourself, your family and your friends by avoiding fireworks.

Attend only authorized public fireworks displays conducted by licensed operators.

Support legislation that bans the importation, general sale and indiscriminate usage of fireworks by children and adults.

For a free copy of the Safe Summer Celebrations, offering fun, fireworks-free activities for families brochure or more tips about fireworks safety, call Prevent Blindness America at (800) 331-2020 or log on to

About Prevent Blindness America

Founded in 1908, Prevent Blindness America is the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight. Focused on promoting a continuum of vision care, Prevent Blindness America touches the lives of millions of people each year through public and professional education, advocacy, certified vision screening, community and patient service programs and research. These services are made possible through the generous support of the American public. Together with a network of affiliates, divisions and chapters, it’s committed to eliminating preventable blindness in America. For more information, or to make a contribution to the sight-saving fund, call 1-800-331-2020 or visit

from the June 27-July 4, issue

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